About 260 years ago, a Swiss immigrant named Ulrich Strickler settled on a tract of land off Concord Road in Springettsbury Township. He farmed the land on which one day, further into the future than he might've been able to imagine back in the 1740s, York County Prison would be built.
Strickler's own construction plans were a bit more modest. He placed stones for a house, building a new family home thousands of miles away from the Mennonite persecution in Switzerland.
His old farmhouse somehow endured, and the quaint structure that's one of York's oldest stands in juxtaposition to the huge modern razor-wire enclosed building beside it.
Strickler's bloodline also endured in York, and his descendents are among a group of people lobbying York County Commissioners to preserve the old farmhouse, which they say could be in jeopardy.
A ninth-generation grandson, 41-year-old David Dietz of Hellam Township, said his mother was born in the house, which is as important to local history as it is to his family.
Egypt has the pyramids and Greece has the Parthenon, but farmhouses like this one are the structures that represent the history of York County and its people, he told commissioners.
County property: Owned by York County and sitting on prison property, the Ulrich Strickler farmhouse previously housed Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who work with the prison. The county had to relocate the offices to another building more than a year ago, though, because the house was too cramped, and there were concerns about water entering the structure through the foundation, said President Commissioner Steve Chronister.
The house has been sitting vacant ever since, with county officials hoping to avoid spending the estimated $300,000 needed for a full renovation, Chronister said.
There were no plans to demolish the building, but also no plans for preservation. He said he knew it was only a matter of time before someone like Springettsbury Township resident Jane Heller showed up to voice concern and perhaps give commissioners motivation to act.
Leading the rally to save the structure, Heller and Strickler descendents and showed up at Wednesday's meeting, telling commissioners that there's such a thing as "demolition by neglect."
She said the structure's roof looks questionable, and urged commissioners to act before it's too late.
Bigger picture: Strickler's old farmhouse could be the impetus behind a larger historical preservation effort, as Heller said she wants the county to form a trust or another organized means of raising money to save historic properties. There's a county-run farmland preservation program, but no similar effort to preserve old buildings, she said.
After the meeting, Chronister agreed and said commissioners would be in discussion to see whether some farmland preservation money could be funneled into historic preservation.
The economic recession zapped development in York County, so open land isn't under the same pressures it was under several years ago at the height of the home construction industry, he said.
The Strickler house could end up being home to a future preservation trust, he said, because if the county spends the money to renovate, the building won't sit vacant, he said.
For now, plans are limited to having county engineer John Klinedinst assess the property to see if it's structurally sound. If it isn't, action could be taken after cost estimates are provided, Chronister said.
Commissioner Chris Reilly said he's not in favor of reducing farmland preservation money, but he would support creation of a trust.
Reilly said the Strickler property, having been vacant for only about a year, is "probably not in as bad of a condition as some of that group thinks it is."
"(Immigration workers) did not move out because it was falling down, put it that way."
He said he's not in favor of a total restoration, and the county's only responsibility to the building should be to "maintain the building at a reasonable level." He said that means making sure it's structurally sound, has no water leakage, and has a good roof.
He's awaiting Klinedinst's report, he said.
Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke said he's also awaiting the report, and he doesn't want to see the farmhouse deteriorate.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.